by Andrew Obus
More specifically: “Talking to people about math at math conferences.” This, of course, is a very good thing to do. But it may not always come easily (at least, it does not for me). So this will be more a “question post” than an “advice post.”
Some situations are easier than others. If a speaker has just given an interesting talk, it is often natural to ask questions after the talk. Even if I don’t have specific mathematical questions about the talk, I often find it interesting to ask a question like “where did idea X come from?” If a mathematician does research very close to mine (i.e., is someone who I presume might be interested in hearing about mildly technical details of my work), it is also generally not so hard to start up a conversation. Unfortunately, as a relatively new PhD, my research focus is somewhat narrow, and most mathematicians I meet do not fit the above bill. Some mathematicians are so outgoing and charismatic that it is difficult not to get into an animated conversation with them. But, then again, many (most?) are not.
So, for those who are very comfortable meeting and chatting up other mathematicians (especially more senior mathematicians, people not in your immediate field of research, and people who do not necessarily give an impression of “approachability”), do you have tips to share? I (and the blogosphere) would like to know!